Gino DiCaro

More Expensive Drinking Water on the Horizon

By Gino DiCaro, VP, Communications

Capitol Update, May 21, 2004 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

In 2001, Senator Don Perata authored a bill which required California’s Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA) Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to develop a public health goal (PHG) for arsenic in drinking water. The same bill also required the Department of Health Services (DHS) to revise its current 50 parts per billion drinking water standard after the PHG is finalized.

OEHHA recently announced the publication of that PHG. It identifies 4 parts per trillion as a level of arsenic in drinking water that would not be expected to pose a significant human health risk. OEHHA estimates that a level of 4 parts per trillion of arsenic in drinking water would cause no more than one additional cancer case in a population of one million people drinking two liters of water per day for 70 years.

To quote the Associated Press: "California has set a public health goal for arsenic in drinking water so low that it can’t be measured by existing technology, and far below a pending (2006 implementation) federal standard (of 10 parts per billion) already projected to cost local ratepayers $80 million."

OEHHA conducted an analysis of available studies on the health effects of arsenic primarily relying upon studies of hundreds of thousands of patients in Taiwan, Chile and Argentina with lung and bladder cancers associated with elevated levels of arsenic in drinking water. DHS must now use the new state PHG to create a standard for the maximum allowable level of arsenic in drinking water, which by law must be as close to the PHG as is economically and technically feasible. The problem in cleaning up the state’s drinking water goes well beyond that of contamination from toxic waste. Arsenic, which is naturally occurring, is one of the most toxic substances commonly found in drinking water. In this state, most of the pockets are in the Central Valley and in Riverside and San Bernadino counties. Estimates are that if DHS sets the permissible limit at 2 parts per billion (the lowest that can be detected with current technology), a capital expenditure in the neighborhood of $750-800 million will be required with an additional annual operating and maintenance cost of $245 million.
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